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To Learn to Worship

“Why do you stand here idle all day?” (Matthew 20:6).

Two things matter: God’s love for us and our worship of Him. God is the fountainhead of love. Everything true, good, and beautiful is merely a glimpse into that love. Creation exists for the single purpose of responding to that love. We were born to learn to worship. So it is no wonder that God comes to us and asks: ‘Why are you idle’?

“The kingdom of heaven is like a householder who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard” (Matthew 20:1).

God makes the first move.

“[He] went out early.” Immediately we find a reference to Genesis: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (1:1). The English astronomer, Fred Hoyle, first coined the term “Big Bang” on a radio broadcast in 1949. The theory spread like fire through the scientific community, that our universe began with a primeval explosion. What set off that explosion? The love of God. The Church Fathers insist, God did not create out of boredom or loneliness. The act of creation is merely the overflowing of God’s love.

Stars have mesmerized children and adults from the beginning. The way they sparkle. The different tints of color. The size of it all. There is a universal reaction when a person looks up. We wonder. We want to worship, either the stars or something beyond the stars. If we slow down enough to take it in, the desire is irresistible. The same can be said about the birds singing, the wind, gardens, music and paintings. Truth, goodness, and beauty are transcendentals, and we know it in our gut. What is this experience? All creation invites us into worship.

“[He] went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard.”

God makes the first move. It remains to us to respond to that move in a life of worship, but we are idle. We get distracted. Something in us is messed up. So God gives us work, to labor in the vineyard of the soul.

“Do you not know that in a race the runners all compete, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win it. Athletes exercise self-control in all things; they do it to receive a perishable garland, but we an imperishable one. So I do not run aimlessly, nor do I box as though beating the air; but I punish my body and enslave it, so that after proclaiming to others I myself should not be disqualified” (I Corinthians 9:24-27; 10:1-5).

St. Paul compares the Christian life to an athlete training for a marathon. There is an urgency in his words: running, boxing, disciplining one’s body, straining for the prize. He insists we have an energy in our faith. He is describing an energy no less than the energy you pick up watching Eric Liddell train in Chariots of Fire, or Sylvester Stallone (i.e. Rocky) when he first decides to take the match. Where is our energy?

A Christian life is a life of struggle. I was working with a sawmill some years back in Virginia. We were building a pole-barn, trimming down boards from freshly cut trees, and it was summer, in the triple digits. That taught me a new lesson about being hot…and I had Gatorade. What did the laborers have to drink in our Lord’s parable? They were not exaggerating. “We have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.” This is the life God calls us to, a life of “working out our salvation” (Philippians 2:12).

St. John Chrysostom says this of the scorching heat.

“The heat [in the field is] the burning trials…which the evil spirits kindled against them, urging them to be as the Gentiles.”

It is a fascinating statement. The devils “urge us to be as the Gentiles” — to live, to think, to conform to the ways of the world. Of this, St. Paul is clear. It was because of their worship that God gave them over to a “debased mind” (ἀδόκιμον νοῦν) — a mind twisted and perverted (Romans 1:28). They worshipped themselves, their wealth, their comforts, their bellies…and with twisted worship acquired twisted hearts. Can you see this anywhere in our society? The whole world has gone crazy, and we go along with it too. It is only with work, real work on our soul, that we can tear ourselves apart from the insanity. It begins with worship. What is the true worship of our heart?

“Each of them also received a denarius” (Matthew 20:10).

What is it all for? We are laboring for worship sake — to stop getting all excited about everything around us — and to live with hearts zeroed in towards God.

“I will bless the Lord at all times. His praise shall continually be in my mouth” (Psalm 33.) “In all places of his dominion, I will bless the lord with my soul” (Psalm 102).

This is no hyperbole. It is the whole point. The good times and the bad times, our successes and failings, everything that has ever happened to us, God brought us through it to train our hearts to worship.

“Why do you stand here idle all day?” (Matthew 20:6).

Lent comes to us with the same question. In the next couple of weeks, the Church invites us to start examining our soul. What parts of our life have gotten out of sync? What bad habits have sunk in? What good habits need refining? In a special way, the forty days of Lent is the field of the laborers where God tells us to get to work. How can we go through Lent in a manner that bears fruit? What is the purpose? To learn to bless God.


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